Fairfax residents and business owners are struggling to embrace solar energy thanks to strict home improvement regulations and a lack of state-funded incentives.
Many Fairfax County homeowners associations prohibit solar panels. And Virginia offers no financial assistance to residents looking to go green with energy-saving solar technology.
"We've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from residents that this is a big problem," said Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross, D-Mason, chairwoman of the board's environmental committee.
Local solar installers agreed.
"It's not necessarily just Fairfax County, it's Northern Virginia," said Steve Gotschi, president of DryHome Sun Solutions in Sterling.
Gotschi said onerous local regulations had made business difficult in many of the commonwealth's northern counties, especially communities subject to homeowners associations.
"Residential bylaws always have the same one-liner, 'No solar panels,' " Gotschi said. "They believe it ruins the home's aesthetic."
A scan of Fairfax homeowners association guidelines backs up Gotschi's contention; from Herndon to Vienna to Chantilly, the same regulation appears again and again.
"Solar panels are not permitted," reads the Vienna Station homeowners handbook. Other, more lenient homeowners associations allow solar only if panels are installed flush with the roofline, an expensive stipulation. Calls to local homeowners associations, and to the state's Department of Environmental Quality, were not immediately returned.
Gross said the county has little power to force homeowners associations to change their regulations, but said the state could do more to encourage solar through legislation and cash incentives.
While Virginia has been stingy with its cash, Maryland offers a number of solar energy grants, providing homeowners thousands of dollars in addition to available federal incentives.
"In Maryland you have your state credits, you have your county credits, and I think some smaller jurisdictions have city credits. In Virginia we only get the 30 percent federal grant," Gotschi said.
The federal government offers an income tax credit equal to 30 percent of the solar panel's total installed cost, and the Obama administration recently announced it would pump $150 million in stimulus cash into support for local solar programs.
Gotschi said Virginia homeowners were reluctant to ante up so much of their own cash knowing their Maryland neighbors were paying less.
"That's a hard pill to swallow," he said.
Gross agreed Virginia had work to do to catch up with other states when it comes to solar energy.
"We need to get over our solar issues here in Virginia," she said.